Media rights and diplomatic officials from Europe and the United States have expressed concern about a court order to replace the management at television channel Rustavi 2 in Georgia, calling it inconsistent with principles of media editorial freedom and judiciary independence.
It has been reported that the Tbilisi City Court designated temporary managers at Rustavi 2 and told them Thursday that, among their executive powers, they should exercise a change in the editorial policy to cover “all the issues representing public interest.”
“Editorial decisions should be made in newsrooms, not courtrooms,” Dunja Mijatović, media freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Friday. “Attempts by the courts to unduly influence an editorial policy of a media outlet are nothing short of the abuse of the rule of law and democratic foundations in a society.”
Mijatović called on the Georgian judiciary “to fully respect the right of Rustavi 2 to editorial independence.”
In a joint statement Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi and the European Union's Delegation to Georgia said that the court order raised “serious questions about the independence of the judiciary and the actual degree of freedom of the media” in the country.
The Georgian government and judiciary must “uphold the principles of media freedom and political pluralism that are an integral part of Georgia's declared aspirations,” the statement said.
The U.S. and EU called on all parties “to refrain from any step or statement that could prevent the Georgian judiciary from ruling dispassionately on this case.”
Following the U.S. and EU statement, Georgia's president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, urged the ruling coalition to ensure no questions remained regarding judicial independence and media freedom in the country.
Several hundred people, angered by Thursday's court ruling, gathered Friday outside Rustavi 2 in a show of support for the independent TV station, which is engaged in an ownership dispute.
On November 3, the Tbilisi City Court ordered a change of ownership at Rustavi 2, in what the broadcaster called an attempt to silence its criticism of the government.
Kibar Khalvashi, who was a co-owner in 2004-06, sued and got back his controlling stake in the station. He said he had been coerced into selling Rustavi 2 by former government officials, including former President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Georgia's Constitutional Court’s had put a temporary hold on the ruling to allow those who were managing Rustavi 2 at the time to appeal it.
VOA's Georgian service contributed to this report.